A few weeks ago, on a rainy Wednesday evening in London, we made some awesome new friends – all of them utterly unique and bursting with personality. The people who make, distribute and promote them were pretty cool, too. Yes we are talking about a medley of gins all brimming with botanicals that instantly had us hooked. So sit back, as we take you through our latest spirited discoveries:
As we sit in The Jones Family Project in Shoreditch sipping a range of cocktails and straight spirits, it’s funny to think that our antics would be viewed completely differently just 200-odd years ago. Saying that, the drunken carry-on that takes place most weekends along the alleys leading off Old Street roundabout and nearby Rivington Street aren’t always a million miles from the scenes depicted by pictorial satirist, social critic and depravation chronicler of his time William Hogarth. But while the ‘gin craze’ of yesterday referred to the widely held believe that the drink sent you mad, today the gin craze is the result of a growing demand for quality, innovative and delicious spirits. It’s part of the motivation behind Nik Koster’s drinks-based PR agency – Garnish Communications – that represents a number of innovative and exciting labels. He is the bloke behind this evening’s libations – and kicking things off was Langley’s No. 8.
In operation since 1920, it was around five years ago that master distiller Rob Dawson decided to make a more traditional gin. Two years later he came up with this 41.7% offering: juniper-heavy on the nose and palette it is made with 100% English grain, spends three days in stills and has a very smooth taste. The upfront juniper punch gives way to slight spice and a citrus middle with hints of lemon and orange peel, coriander. The signature Langley G&T is served with grapefruit and basil, and recently launched in its home town of Birmingham (it’s stocked in all five of the city’s Michelin-starred establishments), so look for it at a bar new you soon. It’s already a best-seller at The Jones Family Project – a bar that truly gets gin with a dedicated menu that expertly matches different brands to different mixers.
And don’t be alarmed, it doesn’t matter that Langley’s No. 8 is made in Birmingham. The classic London Dry moniker refers to the style, not the location of the distiller. Finding a distinctive style and sticking to it seems all-important in today’s competitive gin marketplace. As Nik says: “You have to find your USP as a gin.”
It’s a sentiment that James Goggin from Maverick echoes – “it’s a pretty big battle so people fight their niche” – as he talks about Bathtub Gin. It’s sold in a bottle that has been covered with a brown paper bag by hand, and James says that following numerous test runs using industrial, glass and wallpaper glue nothing worked better than nursery school favourite Pritt Stick – it takes six people to keep the production line going, nine in preparation for Christmas. So is the team’s commitment to quality and consistency that the bottles stocked behind bars are also wrapped in brown paper and sealed with wax – there’s no dumbing down here.
Made in Kent and filled by Burlington Distillery, this is a gin made in the often-underrated compounding style (using oil instead of fresh ingredients) that largely died out with the introduction of column stills. Sourcing sacks of ingredients from a spice merchant, this is a Plymouth style with an earthier side thanks to the addition of clove and cinnamon. Big, bold and very punchy, it’s a gin that’s made for mixing.
The distillers produced 9,000 litres in their fourth year using 30 sacks of botanicals – far more than major labels because they don’t apply heat – and James believes the resulting depth of flavour means compound gins will soon be on the rise when more people discover its charms.
Next 1987 Quinine Gin – a cold distillation with a conscience thanks to a collaboration with charity initiative Malaria No More. While mosquito-busting G&Ts have been served across the subcontinent for decades thanks to the anti-malarial qualities of the quinine found in tonic, in this case it’s the gin that contains the quinine – in the form of distilled red cinchona bark. This botanical is joined by vibrant citrus – pink and white grapefruit, orange and lemon peels – as well as the dry, woody smell of spices – coriander, nutmeg, cassia, cinnamon and orris – along with liquorice, angelica and, of course, juniper. It is pot-distilled for extra bitterness and comes out with an alcohol level of 45.8%. For every bottle sold a family can be kitted out with potentially life-saving mosquito nets, and the crew recently headed to the Houses of Parliament to spread the positive gin message.
We quickly cross the Atlantic to sample something from St George. Based in San Francisco it is the oldest craft distillery in the US and was founded by a German distiller with a penchant for eau de vie and brandy.
Today, St George has three gins – the most interesting is made with a nod to the surrounding terroir. Inspired by a walk in the local national park – which James describes as nature’s version of Times Square – the resulting gin is pine fresh, minty and clean. Three forms of distillation goes into achieving the balanced flavour, and the distillers recommend pairing it with citrus. It’s mind-blowingly different, please seek it out.
The other two gins are Dry Rye and the Botanivore, which is jam-packed with 19 botanicals and described as an easy-drinking ‘session gin’. Now there’s a thought.
The final gin of the night is a simple but equally sensational small-batch that started life in Hackney Wick three years ago and is now produced in a terrace workshop in Shoreditch. Butler’s Gin is infused predominantly with lemongrass and cardamom (resulting in a light green-meets-yellow tint), and was created by the eccentric master distiller Ross William Butler, who has been known to serve a tipple or two from the back of his speedboat when it’s moored in London’s Docklands.
Originally inspired by a Victorian recipe, this classic London Dry is described by brand ambassador Michael as “a rare gin, unique in a world of unique beverages”. The spirit is placed in a 20-litre glass jar with infusion bags containing fresh lemongrass, cardamom, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, fennel, lemon and lime. After infusing for 18 hours it is hand-bottled and hand-numbered by Ross himself. It feels homemade and humble – you can see sediment in the bottom of the bottle from cardamom shells and the first version was stored in a milk bottle – but it tastes super-premium and is now present at more than 250 pubs within the M25.
Why lemongrass and cardamom? Aromatherapists believe this unique blend is both refreshing and relaxing. A few Butler’s cocktails later, we would tend to agree.
Mixed with blackcurrant jam made by former Melburnian Lillie O’ Brien – once a pastry chef at St. John and now a full-time Chatsworth Road preserve supremo – and a dash of ginger beer, this is a thing of beauty.
Finally, we things off with an order from the kitchen rather than the bar – Eton Mess Semifreddo – Langley’s No. 8 gin macerated strawberries, strawberry sauce and crushed meringue. The verdict? Gin, gin and more gin, at a fabulous venue that is more than happy to support your gin craze.